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Wake Up To Politics - August 28, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, August 28, 2019. 159 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 433 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Democratic debate stage likely to be capped at 10 as qualification deadline nears

Ten Democratic presidential candidates are expected to be invited to the next primary debate, as contenders face a midnight deadline to qualify for participation. To qualify for the debate, candidates must register at least 2% support in four DNC-approved polls and receive donations from at least 130,000 individual donors.

So far, the candidates that have met that criteria are: former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Billionaire former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer came close to qualifying as well, reaching the donor qualification and receiving 2% support in three DNC-approved polls. Steyer had two final chances to qualify this morning, as Suffolk University/USA Today and Quinnipiac University released polls, but he landed with 0% in both surveys. No other qualifying pollsters are expected to release polls ahead of the midnight deadline. If Steyer had received 2% in either of the polls released this morning, he would have become the 11th candidate to qualify for the upcoming debate, which would have pushed it to become a two-night event, with the field split into two groups.

A number of the lower-polling Democratic candidates have been taking aim at the DNC rules in recent days as it became clear that they would be shut out of the upcoming debate. "We’re rewarding celebrity candidates with millions of Twitter followers, billionaires who buy their way onto the debate stage, and candidates who have been running for president for years," Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) said last week. Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) leveled a similar critique, saying the rules favored candidates with deeper personal funds and had "turned this primary into ‘The Hunger Games.'"

The three candidates who reached the fundraising qualification but not the polling deadline — Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and spiritual author Marianne Williamson — all released statements of protest this week calling on the DNC to expand the qualifying pollsters to include surveys in which they performed better.

While some candidates could drop out after missing the next debate (joining Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and California Rep. Eric Swalwell), it won't be the end of the road for the all of them: the criteria for the October debate is the same as for the September debate, so contenders who came close to qualifying still have hope that they could do so by the fourth debate. "I've got the money rolling in," Williamson told ABC News, shrugging off the debate setback. "This love train is on a roll."

The third Democratic presidential primary debate will be held on September 12 in Houston, Texas, and will be hosted by ABC News. The 10-person stage will be a much different than the previous two debates, when the events were held over two nights to accommodate the 20 candidates who qualified. This time, the entire field will face off at once, including former Vice President Biden and Sen. Warren, two top-tier contenders who hadn't yet been on the same stage.

The two polls released this morning both showed Biden with strong leads: in each survey, he was supported by 32% of registered Democratic voters, with Warren in second place.

The Trump Administration

--- The Trump administration is diverting $271 million in funds from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including at least $155 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief fund, to "pay for immigration detention space and temporary hearing locations for asylum-seekers who have been forced to wait in Mexico," according to an NBC News report later confirmed by DHS. The move comes as a hurricane watch has been issued for Puerto Rico as Tropical Storm Dorian hurtles toward the island, which could require support from the FEMA relief funds. DHS maintains that "absent significant new catastrophic events" the fund will still have enough money to operate even with the immigration enforcement transfer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) railed against the transfer in a statement Tuesday, calling it "cruel" and "deeply dangerous," as well as a "brazen assault on the Congress's most fundamental constitutional power, the power of the purse."

--- "President Trump is so eager to complete hundreds of miles of border fence ahead of the 2020 presidential election that he has directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules, according to current and former officials involved with the project."

"He also has told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the barriers built quickly, those officials said."

"Trump has repeatedly promised to complete 500 miles of fencing by the time voters go to the polls in November 2020, stirring chants of 'Finish the Wall!' at his political rallies as he pushes for tighter border controls. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed just about 60 miles of 'replacement' barrier during the first 2½ years of Trump’s presidency, all of it in areas that previously had border infrastructure." (The Washington Post)

--- Mattis speaks: Former Defense Secretary James Mattis makes his first extended comments since resigning from the Trump administration in a Wall Street Journal essay, "Duty, Democracy and the Threat of Tribalism," published this morning. The essay is adapted from his forthcoming book, "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead," which will be released on Tuesday.


--- The investigations: Deutsche Bank told a federal appeals court on Tuesday that it "has in its possession tax returns" tied to President Trump, his family, and his businesses. The admission came in a court filing related to subpoenas from two House committees seeking the president's financial records, as the protracted legal battle between the German lender and Congress continues.

--- "Tensions between Russia and the Senate are rising after President Donald Trump's latest outreach to Moscow, with the Kremlin barring senators in both parties from visiting and Democrats urging Trump to keep Russia out of the G-7." (Politico)

--- "Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King made light Tuesday of China reportedly forcing Muslim women in concentration camps to eat pork in violation of their Islamic faith." (Sioux City Journal)

2019 Central

--- Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves won the GOP gubernatorial primary runoff in Mississippi on Tuesday, defeating former state Supreme Court chief justice Bill Waller, 54% to 46%. Reeves will face four-term Democratic state Attorney General Jim Hood in November; the Magnolia State is one of three that will gubernatorial elections this year, along with Kentucky and Louisiana. Despite Mississippi's strong Republican bent, the race is expected to be somewhat competitive due to Hood's popularity and longevity in office, although Reeves is seen as the favorite in a state that has not elected a Democratic governor since 1999.

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Today at the White House

--- At 11:45 a.m., President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 1 p.m., he has lunch with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

--- Vice President Mike Pence travels to his home state of Indiana today. At 1 p.m., the vice president delivers remarks at the 101st American Legion National Convention in Indianpolis. At 2:15 p.m., he participates in a law enforcement roundtable at the Indianapolis State Police Museum.

Today on the trail

--- Four Democratic presidential candidates travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, to address the state AFL-CIO annual convention: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, HUD Secretary Julián Castro, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden travels to South Carolina, holding town halls in Spartanburg at 11:45 a.m. and Gaffney at 4:45 p.m. This evening, he will attend a fundraiser in Charlotte, North Carolina.

--- Booker will also attend a "Hispanics in Politics" breakfast in Las Vegas at 11 a.m.

--- Klobuchar will also (D-MN) hold a press conference on gun violence in Las Vegas at 1 p.m.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) holds a town hall in Charlotte, North Carolina, at 5:30 p.m.

--- Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) travels to Des Moines, Iowa, today as he considers mounting a Republican primary challenge against President Donald Trump.

--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) speaks at an event in Muscatine, Iowa, at 6 p.m.

*All times Eastern